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Lucid Dying: Understanding the Near Death Experience
A Psychiatrist Discovers the Other Side
Adam Jacobs (AJ): Hi, Dr. Greyson. Thank you so much for being here today. It is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you, and I really appreciate you taking the time to be here.
Bruce Greyson (BG): Well, thank you so much, Adam. I'm so happy to be here with you today.
AJ: It's my great pleasure. And like I say this to a lot of guests, only because it's true. But I really look forward to speaking with certain people. You know, and I only invite on people who I'm really fascinated by. So this is no exception. And in your career, you were a psychiatrist, and you stumbled onto the concepts of the near-death experience through your work and then made an immense study of it over the years. And I personally got interested about five years ago. I lost my father at that time, and by the way, I had heard about it before, but I really started looking at it much more intently at that time, which I'm sure is common for a lot of people, and I know it is extremely popular, is the word is that people are absolutely fascinated by the phenomenon.
And one thing that I've read recently, which I wanted to ask you about, is there was a study that was done at NYU. And apparently, what it found was that there are spikes in brain activity even up to an hour into CPR. And commenting on that, Sam Parnia, who I'm sure you know, said, “these recalled experiences and brainwave changes may be the first signs of the so-called near-death experience.”
And we have captured them for the first time in a large study. And then he says, “our results offer evidence that while on the brink of death and in a coma, people undergo a unique inner conscious experience, including awareness without distress.” So obviously, that should be wild. Fascinating how an hour hosts your heart stopping with no brain activity. Could you record any awareness of any sort? So my question for you, just to kick things off, is why is this not simply regarded as evidence that people take a lot longer to die than we thought?
BG: Well, that's a great question, Adam. And actually, it's true that people do take a lot longer to die than we thought. And in fact, Sam Parnia himself is one of the people who's been pressing most to get us to change the idea of death as an event to a process. And in fact, different parts of the brain die off at different rates, and some cease in a matter of seconds, and some take hours or maybe even longer. Who knows?
At the point of his EEG measures, electroencephalography, the brainwaves through cardiac arrest and resuscitation is an interesting one because it's almost impossible to do these recordings when people are being resuscitated, their chests are being pressed, and so forth. There's a lot of movement to the body, and the muscle electrical activity is thousands of times greater than the brainwave activity.
So it's very hard to make these measurements. In Sam's study, in which they had about 500 patients enrolled, there were very, very few who had actually had these measurements taken. So I'm not sure of the exact number. His paper is being reviewed for Scientific Journal now, and that will have the answers to the methodology and the details. What he was really able to report in a very brief presentation to a conference suggested that there were some brainwaves, as you mentioned
.However, these were not done with a full 248 array of electrodes that we usually have for an EEG. They only put four electrodes on the head to measure this, and we're not really sure what we're measuring, but we do that. So they did find a wide range of brain electrical activity. And it could be coming from the brain. It could be coming from muscles in the forehead and the temples and so forth. And we need to know more details before we conclude what's going on with this.
AJ: Okay. So you're a little bit more circumspect about it. It's not a definitive study. It's just that it's interesting evidence that needs to be analyzed.
BG: And I should say that Sam himself is quite circumspect also. But of course, the media picks up the more sensational aspects of it and says, “oh, now we know what the brain basis of NDE is.” And Sam doesn't go that far.
AJ: Okay. Okay. That's interesting and important. And also, I'm just delighted to know that, you know, ongoing studies are taking place and that people are taking this seriously at major institutions. But there is an interesting attitude that I find. I mentioned at the beginning that there's there seem to be millions of people who are utterly fascinated with this phenomenon.
And there seem to be a lot of people also who are sort of angry, I would say, almost about it. There's this kind of attitude that I find maybe it's on social media and, you know, and online. But when I mention it, I notice a real edge comes up in some people, and it's almost like they want to attack it and don't want it to be real. And so my question for them is, this is a bit of a philosophical, sociological question, but why on earth would somebody be upset at the prospect of our consciousness continuing after death?
BG: That's a great question. We kind of have come to associate this idea with a religious perspective. And, you know, modern Western science tends to look down on religion as being superstition and not based on empirical evidence, such as most science is. However, modern science, as you've alluded to, is now encroaching onto fields that used to be and are still in the field of religion or spirituality.
And we're finding that you can use scientific tools to study these spiritual phenomena. So I think there's no real reason to cast aspersions on these spiritual findings. However, a lot of people are so wedded to the materialistic philosophy that all there is the physical world and anything else is just imaginary that they are threatened by the idea that there is some evidence, scientific evidence, for something beyond the physical.
I should say that this fear of the spiritual is also driven by a fear of not being in control. We know a lot about the physical world. We know what controls what. And when you get to talking about things like survival after death and about deities, you're talking about things that are not in our control. And that can be very terrifying to people who are sort of in need of being in great control of their lives.
AJ: That's interesting. Okay. So I mean, I think it's probably true of all scientific findings that there are certain biases and there are certain, you know, proclivities that people want it to be a particular way and, as you said, are threatened by it still. Why? Just tying it back to modern physics for a moment, what's the difference between this and, you know, the idea that there are multiple dimensions or spooky action at a distance, which is all the crazy stuff in quantum physics, which also to me seems to imply that that physicality, as we understand it, is not the whole picture.
Why are they not threatened by that? I would think that the concept that there are 11 dimensions is it's an aspect of reality. And therefore, scientists coming to describe in a more complex and detailed way our reality. And therefore, it doesn't have to be threatening. It's just a facet of the way things are.
BG: Well, in fact, it is threatening to most scientists. The things you describe with quantum physics and relativity were published in scientific journals more than 100 years ago, and yet still, they haven't made it into the consciousness of most scientists, let alone most laymen. You know, they give lip service to, but they say, well, quantum mechanics, quantum physics is just a mathematical description of the world, but nothing's really different.
And they don't really come to grips with the idea that matter and energy are not what we think they are, that there's something called dark matter, which is probably 95% of the matter in the universe. We just don't come to grips with those things. And we like to see the familiar Newtonian mechanics that we had for hundreds of years before Einstein and so forth.
And anything that challenges that is kind of put on the shelf that, well, someday we'll understand what's really going on there, but it can't be. What you're thinking is the spooky action at a distance. Even Einstein rejected that. He said, now, God doesn't do that. He doesn't play dice with the universe.
AJ: Right. I thought that we had moved way past that. At this point. I thought that quantum physics was one of the most established series of findings ever. And I guess.
BG: The mathematics of it is well established, but the meaning of it, what's behind it, is still open to a great deal of controversy.
AJ: Right. Well, that's the meaning of it is a philosophical question. Right. Okay. So then it's not in the hands of science at that point, you know? Per se, although they can have opinions about it. But maybe the philosophers need to chime in. I'm sure they are. And help us to understand what the implications could conceivably be.
But let's go into your area of expertise a little deeper. And I just want to recommend to the audience that this is your book called “After” Which I Loved. I thought it was really compelling. So many fascinating accounts and really a very thorough description of the phenomena and in all of its facets. So kudos to you for producing that.
Let's talk about Time, which is one of your chapters. There was a great quote by a Swiss geology professor named, I don't know how to pronounce it, but Albert von St Galen Heim. And he said the following as he was falling down a mountain, quote, “What I felt in 5 to 10 seconds could not be described in ten times that length of time. All my thoughts and ideas were coherent and very clear and in no way susceptible as our dreams to obliteration.” Okay, so apparently, this is a common thing that people who are in dire circumstances where you would expect total chaotic thinking become very clear, lucid, and calm, and the time seems to dilate and become longer. What is that all about?
What do you make of that phenomenon? Is that some kind of defense mechanism of the brain helping the organism to survive, or is it a foot in the door, so to speak, of the next world and a feature of the next world?
Yeah, that's a great question. I don't think those two are exclusive ways of looking at it. You can certainly see it as an adaptive mechanism of the brain. Imagine yourself having a car accident, and you need to suddenly get out of the way of the approaching car. It helps you to be able to slow down time and speed up your thinking and be able to swerve out of the way, so you don't die in the crash.
And this has been reported throughout the centuries, and people who have accidents either falling or being struck by something or being it being this great account by Dr. Daniel Stanley Livingstone, the African explorer who described being attacked by a lion and among other things, he felt complete. Listen. Is time sort of slowed down and stopped entirely? And we see that repeatedly among near-death experiences. That time seems to slow down or get distorted or just stop entirely. So it does become explainable in terms of what's adaptable to survive. However, that explains why it happens, not how it happens. How are we able to slow down time and, in effect, stop time? It's very puzzling to me. I don't think I understand it because when near-death experiences tell you about what happened to them in their NDE or near-death experience, they describe it as a sequence of events.
This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. And as I understand it, you can't have a sequence unless you have time. If time isn't passing, how can things be arranged in a sequence? When I ask near-death experiencers about this, they say yes. When I tell you about it here, in our physical frame of reference, it's a paradox.
But over there in the experience was the paradox at all. Things were happening in sequence and all at once, you know, past, present, future were all the same. So and you hear that not only from near-death experiencers but from a variety of mystical experiences caused by various things, including meditation, prayer, psychedelic drugs, and so forth. It's a common aspect of the mystical experience that time seems to slow down or be distorted or sometimes stop altogether.
AJ: So taking a step taking a step back, as I review these ideas and as you're speaking about them like that, everything that I understand before I knew anything about near-death experiences, about the nature of transcendent reality, let's call it, which I know from theological sources and not from scientific ones. Virtually every aspect of this comports with what I understood, what I understood previously, meaning that the whole spiritual framework that I had developed over, you know, over many years seems to be confirmed like point by point, by, you know, the nature of that reality is so, so similar to the way these people describe their experience.
How could that be? How could it be? How would we explain it scientifically that our religion or faith, tradition, a spiritual system could come up with, you know, so many of these facets? How would we explain that?
BG: Well, many, many of our religions have the same types of mystical experiences in their traditions, and they've developed technologies of various technologies to get into those states where they are using naturally occurring psychedelic drugs or drumming or dancing or, you know, praying. And in our culture, coming close to death is just one of those of the many ways of getting to this same state.
Yeah, it may be one of the most common ones in our culture now because we're bringing so many people back from death who usually would not have. But I don't think the state you receive; you achieve in a near-death experience is in any way different from the state you achieve in other ways of reaching this mystical state.
One difference, though, is that in most religious traditions, you have guides or mentors or gurus or teachers who help you through the process, and you're seeking it through these technologies. You're trying to do it; you're meditating, and so forth. Whereas with the near-death experience, you're not looking for it. It comes upon you unbidden, unexpectedly, and without someone to help you deal with it. What is this thing? That's totally different from my normal, everyday life. And for that reason, it may have a different impact on the person who has the experience.
AJ: Yes, for sure. The unexpected nature of it seems to be. It seems to be totally shocking to people; especially, I would say, people who don't come from any type of spiritual background or maybe atheists or, you know, you have several of those listed in your book. You know, who it just took them totally by surprise, which I think actually is even better evidence, you know, when you're not biased towards it one way or the other.
But okay, so that's time is one strange facet, which I think, you know, it does parallel my understanding of spirituality with a big S, the concept of the life review, you know, is, is a famous one. And by the way, if somebody somehow, even as a kid, I remember this idea of my life flashing before my eyes.
I don't know where it came from, but I did understand that if you get into like a scary situation, that could happen for whatever reason. So here's a quote from somebody who had a life review in your book, and it says, “What I'm telling you is I was in my aunt Gay’s body. I was in her eyes. I was in her emotions. I was in her unanswered questions. I experienced the disappointment, the humiliation, and it was very devastating to me. It changed my attitude quite a bit as I experienced it.” So two questions on that. It's a great quote. How would we account for that in a purely physical sense? What would the physicalists say is the explanation for how that happened to that person?
And sort of to there's a philosophical question, you know if we believed that such a thing was possible, that that we will in the future come to experience again all of the things that we did. But not just that but how it affected everyone around us. How do you think that might change our behavior on a day-to-day basis?
BG: Yeah, well, the life you view by itself is something that psychologists might have expected when you're approaching death. It's a natural thing to try to review your life, see what was good in it, what was not so good, what could I have done better, and so forth. So that type of thing is kind of expected when you're coming close to death.
And in fact, we see in near-death experience is it's more likely to happen in people who are suddenly and unexpectedly coming close to death. If you're if you know you're dying, if you get a terminal disease for a long time, or if you're trying to attempt suicide, you've already sort of done that work before you come close to death. And you don't need to repeat it in the life review.
So you can explain the life review by itself in terms of psychological processes. However, the other aspect you mention of seeing things or reliving things from someone else's perspective is not explainable by normal quote normal means. And the only way that material scientists can deal with that is to say that it didn't really happen; you imagined it. It wasn't real.
And yet people experience it as real. And if we try to talk to the people who are involved in that event that the person remembers, they corroborate what the person said about their feelings, their behavior, their so forth, and most near-death experiences are profoundly affected by that event. And they come back realizing that we're all in this together, that the feeling that I am me and you are you is just an illusion.
We really do the same thing or different parts of the same thing. And this is kind of at least the golden rule, which is part of every religion we have. Do unto others as you have them do unto you because they experience it not just as a guideline for us but it's a law of the universe. When I hear someone else, I'm hurting myself. And when I help other people, I'm helping myself as well, and that dramatically changes their lives. What would it be like if everyone knew this? Well, everyone's known for centuries, right?
AJ: That's true. That's true. But I don't think you know the difference. I don't think we're living with it.
BG: Exactly. Exactly right.
If everyone experienced this, it might be different.
AJ: Yes. And so my thinking is that this phenomenon can help to underscore that which we already know. Yeah. You know, and smack in the book of Leviticus, for instance, where it says love your neighbor, your fellow as yourself, at least from a Kabbalistic perspective, that means to love him or her as yourself because you are yourselves. And just like the analogy that's given, as if you were cutting vegetables and your right hand sliced your left, your left would never pick up and slice the right back. You know, that would be insane. So to, you know, what a glorious world this would be, you know, if people really had it in their guts that this is a real thing and that what I do matters which, and I think that that's such an empowering way of looking at things that like, yes, it'll be reviewed. And I'll I may not be happy about every facet of my life when it's reviewed, but it counts like, you know, it's important what I do and how it affects others.
So I just wanted to read you one quick quote from the Talmud, actually, on the concept of the life review, which says it says that at the hour of a person's departure to his eternal home, all his deeds are enumerated before him and are rendered visible to him once again. And the deeds themselves say to him; You did such and such in such and such a place on such and such a day. And he says, Yes, that is exactly what happened. So, again, that's 2000 years old. You know, like you said, it's been around for a long time, but. Okay. Yeah, go ahead.
BG: In saying that that it matters what you do, most near-death experiencers would agree with that but not in the way that many of our religions teach that you will be punished or rewarded in the near-death experience to say that no one else was judging me, but I was having to relive all that myself, including the pain I inflicted on others.
And that was incredibly painful. That was a lot of punishment. And they come back determined to make up for what they've done and to live their lives better now.
Yes, I agree. And I think that there's a five-year-old way of understanding, reward, and punishment, and there's a 95-year-old way if you know what I'm saying. And what a lot of people learned in their parochial schools or whatnot was like, if you do this, you will be punished.
And like many parents, good parents know that there's something called consequence different from punishment, you know, and you bring it on yourself, and you'll learn by hook or by crook. I think that that would be tremendously empowering if most people lived with that, you know, that it's not this punitive thing or this angry God and or force or whatever it is it's going to rain down on you, but rather how you treated people and yourself is important, and at the end, it will have ramifications.
Not because we want to get even with you but because we want you to grow in the best way possible. I think that would be very salubrious for humanity, you know. Okay. There's you said earlier that the physical is the explanation for some of these things is to say; well, it just didn't happen. You had a fantasy. Right? So you have a chapter in the book on insanity. And which all was just really fascinating, and I hadn't really considered before. But you have one example of an individual who is having an LSD trip that leads to a near-death experience, and he's able to sort of provide the distinction between those two experiences and then how they're different. So to me, it seemed like he goes he went from a very confused and chaotic state to a very clear and lucid one. Is that the main distinction between these two states of mind, or is there more to it?
BG: Part of it is the lucidity that in his LSD state, he was very confused, he was frightened, and so forth. And then, when he stopped breathing and had his near-death experience, his thoughts became crystal clear. His thoughts and perceptions were very, very clear and logical. And when he came out of the near-death experience, he was back in the LSD state and then confused again. And later on, he was able to completely separate those two types of experience. It's not just the clarity but also the emotional impact of it that the LSD hallucinations were terrifying, and the immediate experience was experienced as being a blissful event. So that's very different from his perspective.
AJ: Okay. And so when people have fantasies, for instance, which are, you know, there are people of all kinds of fantastical experiences, is it a hallmark of those kinds of experiences to be confused?
BG: Not necessarily. If it's something induced by a drug, it is often confused. But I mean, people have daydreams, and they have dreams that are usually not confused. Sometimes they are, but they can be very realistic, very lifelike. They don't tend to have the same after-effects as near-death experiences. A spiritual experience is, generally, you don't remember a dream you had 20 years ago, but you remember a spiritual event you had 20 years ago as if it happened yesterday, and it changes your life. Whereas dreams and fantasies usually do not change your life like that.
AJ: Right? Okay. But nonetheless, as this example highlighted, it seems that virtually all the near-death experiences that you record a facet of it is a serene clarity to the degree where people record that this is a more real experience than they generally have. And it's not that they're in the grips of some kind of a fantasy. They're very confident that what is taking place is actual reality.
BG: Yeah. Yeah, that's common to almost every near-death experience is that they say that world was more real than this world is. And I give another example there of a schizophrenic patient who was hearing what he thought was the voice of the devil telling him to kill himself. And he tried to do so. And then he heard the voice of God telling him that God was going to save him and so forth.
And when he was telling me this later, I stopped, and I said, Wait a minute, you say you heard this voice that no one else heard, and you said that was hallucinations. And then you heard another voice that no one else heard. And you say that one was real. What's the difference? And he said, I'm not sure I can explain a few, but God's voice was more real than yours is right now.
The way your voice is more real than the Devil's was. And it's something that he had no doubt about, but he didn't have words to explain to us. And you see that again and again in near-death experiences that there are many aspects that they can't put into words. And they say, I can give you analogies or metaphors for it, but this isn't really what happens. You know, it wasn't really pearly gates and, you know, so forth. It was just a sense of being welcomed and blissful and so forth. And I don't know how to describe it. I mean, many people describe this warm, loving being that in caps in and surrounds them and makes them feel validated and loved, and they'll say, you know, I'm going to call that God. So you know what I'm talking about. But it's not the God I was talking about in church. It's much bigger than that. But I don't know what else to call it.
AJ: Yeah. I mean, again, to me, this is so reminiscent of so many aspects of spirituality as I've been taught about it. So it was really tremendously exciting. But the most compelling chapter of your book after had to do with the concept of the human brain being a filter of consciousness as opposed to the generator of consciousness. And it was, first of all, the book is replete with great quotes that everyone should get it and read them. But there was a woman named Lynn who was hit by a drunk driver while she was riding on a bike, and she said the following about her experience.
She said, “there were no walls or boundaries or anything solid, just light and beings.
The light was like a magnet to you just cannot be apart from it. You want to be with it more than anything you've ever wanted. Everyone loved each other more than that can be comprehended here because of what we were, not who we were. We're limited, but they are not.
So this concept of limitation of sort of being stuck in my body and stuck in them in the material world becomes really unpleasant to them to the degree where she and she goes on to say after she recovers, you know, where she's going to live, which we would think would be the most delightful, best news possible, she says. “I remember opening my eyes, and all I could think about was shoot. Although she didn't say shoot, all I have is a human brain, and we're just two more seconds on it, and I'll let you respond. But Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, who had one of the most popular TEDTalks of all time, you know, had a stroke, and half her brain went offline, and had an experience very similar to a near-death experience.
And one quote from Henri Bergson, which is “The brain maintains consciousness fixed on the world in which we live. It is the organ of attention to life”. So it seems to me, and please corroborate, if you could, that there are many experiences, as you said earlier, that can induce this connect this feeling of connection. Is it the case, therefore, that it's the brain that is scuttling things, so to speak?
BG: Yes, it's habits helping us to navigate successfully in this physical plane. But at the same time, it's blocking out our access to the higher dimension. And that's what it does. Right? Well, that's the metaphor that I think makes the most sense in looking at the frequently observed correlation between our brain states and our thinking and our own perceptions. However, we have all these experiences that you mentioned, different spiritual experiences in the last couple of decades; we've been able to actually measure brain activity during psychedelic states, trance states, and so forth.
And what we consistently find is that the more elaborate, mystical states are associated with a decrease in brain activity and a decrease in connection with cues from different parts of the brain, which suggests that the brain is getting out of the way to allow these experiences to occur. Right. And there's lots of experimental evidence for this from a variety of sources.
This should not be surprising, although this is what we're taught in college, in medical school, if the brain causes the mind that the mind is what the brain does. But that doesn't seem to be the case. This shouldn't be surprising because we know that what's out there is much greater than what we perceive. Our eyes only see the visual spectrum that we can see.
We don't see the infrared and the ultraviolet, but it's out there. We know it's out there. And similarly, we see that there are sounds that we don't hear that other animals hear. So we know that our brain is filtering out all this other stimulation and just letting in that which is essential for our survival. In the physical world.
The brain evolved like the rest of the body to help us survive in the physical world, to find food and shelter and a mate, and so forth. Communing with gods is not a part of that. It doesn't help you find food and shelter. So let's block all that out and just let in the important stuff. So it makes sense that the brain should evolve to filter out all that spiritual nonsense that doesn't help us survive in the physical world and just focus on what's really important.
AJ: And yet those spiritual categories, all those adjectives that people use, peace, love, harmony, joy, that's the stuff that people are seeking, you know? So how interesting that are, you know, what are our primary organ of consciousness, or that is associated with consciousness precludes us from accessing those things. You would think it's entirely backwards from what would have been expected that the most primary things that people want out of our existence are not available through our own brains, seemingly, or at least that you have to work the brain to get it to comply.
It seems very counterintuitive to me.
BG: It does. It does. And yet you have to remember that our brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years when we were hunter-gatherers on the savannah of Africa, and the job then was to keep the body alive, not to attain these spiritual insights. And that's what the brain evolved to do. Now, fortunately for us, there are these escape mechanisms we can get out of the brain for a while. And I think that's what you're pointing out, that that's the sort of the purpose of religion is to help us get out of this trap of the material world and realize what's really going on in the universe.
AJ: Yes. Yes. Easier said than done, you know, but that is definitely the goal, you know, and people do it more or less successfully. But again, I think if the goal was more clearly identified in society at large and there was more of an acceptance of this reality, I think people would be a lot happier on the balance. But I see I have time for a couple more questions. Although personally, I love to sit with you for 7 hours and hash this all out, you know, to its very depths. But a lot of people see religious figures. And you have said you write about that in your accounts as well. So interestingly, people seem to sometimes ascribe titles to them or names to them without these figures per se saying who they are.
Yeah. And there's at least theologically speaking, you know, some people reporting this kind of deity and some people recording this kind of it would be like contradictory, you know, that one would literally knock out the other. And yet they're both happening. And apparently, a reflection of the ultimate truth. How do we explain, you know, first of all, I guess the question is, are these people actually seeing the things that they think they're seeing, or are they just giving an end to it because they happen to know that name? And two is there, you know, what does it mean that you can have competing religious systems that are simultaneously correct?
BG: Yeah. Well, if people are reporting what they see in terms of the basic phenomena they see, but they are putting labels to it based on what their culture and their religion has taught them to label things as. And they usually not always, but they usually recognize that, and they will say, you know, this is I had to make sense of it somehow.
So I use the label that my religion taught me. And in fact, one woman who was a kind of a self-taught religious scholar had a Celtic deity and a Buddhist deity appear here in death experience. And she said that that shouldn't happen.
But that's what my brain made of this thing that I experienced. So I think I think we do put familiar labels and metaphors on these phenomena that just don't have words in the English language, and that makes it difficult to communicate. Now, there are many near-death experiencers have told me that when you get to this other realm, you see that all the religions we have, our different cultures, ways of trying to understand what's really going on, and it doesn't really matter which religion you follow.
They're all the pathways to the same space of the divine, of love, of peace. They all get you there in different ways, but there are no different religions in heaven. It's all just peace and love.
AJ: Mm hmm. Well, those are good things and certainly the most primarily important things, you know. But it is fascinating that the people's accounts take, you know, identify these particular folks, you know, and I guess I don't have a question which I'll just ask out loud, but I won't. I think we need to go into which is, you know, what does it mean to be a deity like the people?
People all seem to be agreeing that there's this what I would describe as a monotheistic, you know, ultimate reality to that dimension. They all describe it as the light source, you know, the all-loving, all-knowing thing. So, you know, to be a deity, does that mean to be a soul? Does that mean to be an angel? Is deity the right word for those beings?
Well, again, we're using whatever words we can come up with. But most people who come back from a near-death experience say that they now recognize the divinity in themselves and everybody else and that when they were in this other realm, they were kind of merging with this universal, whatever it is, Godhead, whatever it is. And they realize that they're part of the same thing.
That doesn't mean they are God. It's like, you know, your finger is a part of your body, but it's not your body. It's just a tiny part of it. They often use the metaphor of a wave in the ocean. It's made of the same stuff the ocean is, but it temporarily has a discrete size and shape, and eventually, we'll just meld back into the rest of the ocean. And they describe that that's that's what the divine is. We're all a part of it, but we're not it. We're just a small part of it.
AJ: It's fascinating and hard to sort of encompass in your mind, you know, it's a story. Okay. Yeah, well, that's, you know, it's the brain that's preventing me from doing it. So the last official question I have for today is, you know, I have a background in music. I'm particularly fascinated by that by itself. And I can't, for the life of me, ascribe any meaning in this world to music.
It's just a series of tones. I don't understand, you know, how those vibrations of air could possibly mean something to somebody. And yet you know, we all have the experience of being tremendously moved by it. Okay. So I've wondered about that for years in, you know, in a bunch of near-death experiences accounts, not all, not all by a long shot.
But some people talk about this utterly compelling music that is taking place. Sometimes it's background music. Sometimes it's sort of like woven into the fabric of whatever that world is. So my question for you is, could it be an explanation as to why we love music in this world? Is that it's sort of like a reminiscence of home, so to speak?
We recognize something in it that it's fundamentally connected to the higher world. Or is that just reaching a little bit too much?
BG: I think, you know, most spiritual traditions have music involved in their rituals to try to bring you into this other state. But like with language, when you come back into this brain, you can't remember what those melodies were if there were indeed any melodies. You know, there was music there. And in some place, some cases, like neuro neuroscientist Evan Alexander, who had a near-death experience, he said the music pulled him out of his body into this other realm.
But I've known people who got frustrated with trying to put their energy into words, and they tried to do it in music. And so it's professional musicians, and they come up with what I think is beautiful music, but they say, this doesn't come close. I just think that the musical language we have, the notes and so forth, the scales don't come close to what I heard over there.
AJ: That's yeah, it's exciting. It's interesting. And it's sort of like a tantalizing idea for me personally. But okay, we'll see in the two and a half minutes we have left. Dr. Greyson, you've been researching this for decades. What do you make of all of it? How has this affected you personally, and what do you think we should all take away from it?
In a nutshell?
BG: Well, let me preface that by saying that I'm a scientist, and that means I think everything we know is tentative. We can be fooled easily by our senses. Everything I know is often too often the doubt. Everything I believe can be changed over here. Find out new data. Having said that, it seems that the evidence from near-death experiences and other spiritual experiences as well is not reconcilable with our materialistic mindset that the only thing that exists is the physical world. That just doesn't explain anything at all.
So I think that we need to accept the teachings of people who had need, have experiences, and people who've been in spiritual connections for centuries that we are all interconnected. And if you treat other people as if this was true, you'll have a much more meaningful and fulfilling life that we are all part of the same thing, that it makes no sense to go ahead at someone else's expense.
Roll this together, and there is a lot more going on than just the physical world.
AJ: I couldn't agree more, and I thank you for your work and for taking the time to speak with me today. It was really a pleasure, and I encourage people to go and check out your work. It's available on Amazon, especially the book “After,” which was just magnificent. And for the audience, please take a moment to visit the Beyond Belief Blog and subscribe to our newsletter and find out all about the great things that we have going on.
And there is quite a lot that we have great, great plans coming up and fascinating people. So thank you all for being here. And Dr. Greyson, thank you so much, and have a great day.
BG: Thank you, Adam.